Noah Blundo: Politics and the Miss Teen South Carolina pageant

Noah Blundo

WASHINGTON, D.C. – With the recent resignations of Bush political adviser Karl Rove and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales leaving the Democrat-controlled Congress with no one to subpoena, the Senate Judiciary Committee has called for sworn testimony from Miss Teen South Carolina to explain her conflicting answers about why one-fifth of American students can't identify their own country on a map.

At the recent Miss Teen USA beauty pageant, South Carolina contestant Lauren Caitlin Upton said, "I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don't have maps," after which she meandered on to talk about how U.S. education officials need to help Asian countries, South Africa and "the Iraq" with their own educational efforts, despite the fact the question was only about U.S. students. Upton ultimately placed fourth in the contest.

In subsequent media appearances, however, she said she was overwhelmed by the TV cameras and said she "heard only one or two words of the actual question."

Later, given a do-over on the question on "The Today Show," she said she and her friends knew where America was, but if the statistic was true, there should be more emphasis on geography.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., immediately launched into Upton after her "Today Show" appearance, demanding she explain how her answer could change so drastically in a few short days.

"It is deeply regrettable that it takes so much work and effort for this Miss Teen South Carolina to try to justify answers that appear to remain far short of the full truth the American people should expect from one of their states' top beauty pageant contestants," Leahy said.

Leahy's Republican counterpart on the committee, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., concurred, adding, "One day, there will be a new Miss Teen South Carolina, maybe sooner rather than later."

Miss Teen USA contest host Mario Lopez lauded the Judiciary Committee's response to the incident and said that, in addition to the demand for testimony, Congress should pass a joint resolution mandating another "Saved by the Bell" reunion special to boost his reputation high enough that he won't have to host teen beauty pageants anymore.

The controversy spilled over into the ongoing run-up to the presidential primaries, with Republic hopeful Tom Tancredo and Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich both chastising Upton in the desperate hope that someone, anyone, would actually pay attention to their campaigns, even for just a minute.

Acting out of reflex, the president offered a quick rebuke on the demand for testimony.

"The Democrats in Congress are more interested in political theater than they are in reality. Lauren Upton is a loyal, capable friend, and a man of honor and integrity," said President Bush, despite the fact that Upton is a teenage girl whom he has never met.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino later clarified the president's remarks, saying Bush "only heard one or two words of the actual question" and that he was preoccupied with developments in "the Iraq."

In related news, a recent public opinion poll shows this incident to be the first time in decades that more than 1 percent of Americans showed interest in any part of a beauty pageant besides the bikini contest.

E-mail Noah Blundo at noah.blundo@timesreporter.com